Talks resumed Wednesday between major Puget Sound area grocery chains and unions representing 21,000 of their workers.
Those talks, now in their sixth month, are aimed at reaching a new contract for workers at Safeway, Albertsons, QFC and Fred Meyer in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston and Mason counties.
Wednesday’s negotiations were focused on new approaches to pensions and health care for the grocery workers. Those new ideas had emerged from talks last weekend between the unions, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters, and the four supermarket chains.
Neither union nor grocery spokespeople returned calls Wednesday seeking information on the latest negotiations.
The unions are preparing to strike by printing picket signs and organizing picket rotations. The grocers, are advertising for replacement workers.
If talks collapse, either side will have to give the other a 72-hour notice before they would be able to strike or bring in replacement workers.
The scope of a potential strike grew wider Wednesday morning as the UFCW announced that 1,000 union grocery workers in Thurston and Mason counties have joined 20,000 other union workers in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties in granting union officials authority to call a strike.
Those Thurston and Mason county workers voted on the strike authorization proposal Tuesday. The results of that vote — 99 percent in favor of the strike authorization — were announced Wednesday.
If negotiators reach a tentative agreement and union members approve it, a new contract would cover the four major chains. Any new contract would also likely be implemented at other union groceries in the region, including independents Metropolitan Market, Red Apple and Thriftway.
The unions have agreed not to strike the independent-union groceries if talks aren’t fruitful with the major chains.
The UFCW represents most unionized grocery workers in King, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston and Mason counties. The Teamsters represent grocery workers in Snohomish County.
The grocers say they have to contain costs because they face higher costs for health care and must compete with nonunion grocers such as Walmart, Costco and Winco for customer dollars.